Wilson: Surviving the draft

Blogger Ryan Wilson cleared his schedule and watched every second of the 2006 NFL Draft this weekend and let's just say he was surprised by how things unfolded.

Roughly 18 hours, two networks, 255 selections, and nine Pittsburgh Steelers draft picks later, the 2006 NFL Draft is in the books.

Finally.

Seriously, by Sunday afternoon I half-expected it to go on indefinitely and wouldn't have been surprised to see Gene Washington step up to the podium and tell me: "The 2006 NFL Draft has been extended for 12 more rounds or until Mel Kiper's hair moves, which ever comes first. This was a last minute addition to the new collective bargaining agreement, and was overlooked at the time of the extension back in March. With the next pick in the 2006 draft ... "

That said, I enjoyed every minute of it. Think about it -- not one pass was thrown, not one yard was gained. Heck, nobody even fell down (well, except for when the NFL Network showed Tony Scheffler running his forty-yard dash at the Combine -- he fell down twice). Yet I sat transfixed to my TV for an entire weekend and am better for it. I can now use "heavy-legged waist-bender" in a sentence and know that in 1981 Mike Mayock was drafted as a defensive back out of Boston College by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 265th pick (he got a $6,000 signing bonus). You don't learn that type of stuff by cutting the grass or running errands. So, what else did I learn? Well, let's see ...

For starters, the Steelers know what they're doing. I scribbled down some notes throughout the weekend and here's a peek at the ramblings of a madman:

Round 1: When the draft started, I wanted Donte Whitner and felt like the Steelers might be able to trade up a few picks to have a shot at him. Well, Buffalo dashed those hopes (along with the hope of a winning season) when they grabbed Whitner with the 8th pick (eighth!). My focus then shifted to wide receiver. I felt like Pittsburgh had maybe a 40 percent chance of getting one of the two wideouts, although I preferred Santonio Holmes over Chad Jackson, and in all honesty, if Holmes was gone and Jackson was still on the board, I was hoping the Steelers would either take a linebacker, or just trade out of the first round all together. To me, Chad Jackson is the next coming of David Terrell (in fact, he should ask for Terrell's number when he gets to New England). Plus, he's a Florida Gator product. Taylor Jacobs, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Travis Taylor are previous first- or second-round picks out of Gainesville. Not exactly a who's who among elite NFL wideouts.

Three teams with needs at wide receiver had yet to go on the clock -- Dallas, San Diego and Kansas City -- and they had picks 18 through 20. Amazingly, three consecutive defensive players went off the board, and at this point I, like Bruce Arians, was dancing around my living room thinking about the very realistic prospects of the best wideout in the draft falling to Pittsburgh. Of course, when I say "falling," I mean, "Pittsburgh trades up to get him." But look, we all knew that the Steelers had 10 selections but didn't have ten spots on the roster. Something had to give, and if that means parting with a few picks to get Santonio friggin' Holmes, then so be it. Now we're down the home stretch ...

... New England takes running back Laurence Maroney with the 21st pick. (The funniest thing about this -- other than the fact that Holmes was still available -- were the rumors that the Colts LOVED Maroney and if he was gone by the 30th pick they'd probably trade out of the first round if they could.)

... The 49ers take DE Manny Lawson at 22 and the Buccaneers grab G Davin Joseph at 23 -- two teams that had needs at wideout but went in other directions. Good.

... The Bengals were now on the clock. At the time I remember thinking something to the effect of, "If the Bengals take a wide receiver with this pick they're just being spiteful ... and admitting that they're only going to win six games next season." Not surprisingly, they take a cornerback.

Next up, the G-Men. If the Steelers were going to trade up, now's the time. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue makes his way to the stage and announces ... A TRADE! I didn't even have to hear who the Giants were trading with. I knew it was the Steelers. In fact, as Tags made the actual announcement, I was screaming to my wife, "You know what this means, right!?! We're getting Santonio Holmes! The best wide receiver in the draft!" My wife has long since accepted the fact that I'm most likely an escaped mental patient, and gave me the obligatory, "I'm married to a three-year-old" half-smile and then went back to reading her book.

(Quick aside: I'm the guy who gave my wife a signed photograph of Hines Ward for her birthday ... and she wasn't even a football fan at the time. She knows what she's up against.)

A few seconds later, Tags re-emerged from behind the curtain and told me what I already accepted as fact: Santonio Holmes was a Steeler. And it wasn't even 4:30 PM EST yet. A few minutes later I found out Pittsburgh had given up a third and a fourth, in addition to their 32nd pick, to get Holmes, but I could've cared less. One need down, a bunch to go. But man, what a start.

Round 2: If I have one gripe about the way the Steelers conduct their draft day business it's this: If they're going to trade down, can't they do it a little earlier than two minutes before they're due to make a selection? I know it might be a little inconvenient, but trust me, so is waiting three hours only to find out you're going to have to wait three more before your team picks again. I'm not even asking for a phone call -- just shoot me an email. Not gonna happen? Okay, moving on ...

Round 3: Let me just say, on my draft board I had Darnell Bing going in the 5th round. And Ko Simpson in the 6th. Alright, I didn't have a draft board, and I, like most everybody else, was shocked when Pittsburgh traded out of the second round with Bing, Simpson and Jon Alston still on the board. When the Steelers finally got around to making a selection with the 83rd pick, I just assumed it would be Bing. And of course, I was wrong. They did get a safety, but it was Syracuse's Anthony Smith. I had heard good things about this guy in the weeks leading up to the draft, but nobody ever mentioned him in the same breath with Jason Allen, Daniel Bullocks, Donte Whitner, Darnell Bing and Ko Simpson. Well, except the Steelers. They had him listed as the fourth best safety on their board.

There were some concerns about the fact that Smith ran a 4.71-forty at the Combine, but unless the NFL is going to a tie-breaker system that require opposing free safeties to run 40-yard dashes to determine which team wins, then I think the Steelers will be fine. And if you're into numbers, consider this: Smith had a three-cone drill time of 6.76 -- faster than both Jason Allen and Ko Simpson -- and a 41-inch vertical jump -- higher than Allen and Simpson ... and every other free safety at the Combine. The three-cone drill tests speed, agility and cutting ability -- three things that seem a little more important than straight-line speed ... at least when you're talking about a football player. And the vertical jump? That measures explosiveness. One more thing, Smith had six picks last season and blocked five kicks during his career. Like Herm Edwards says, "You play to win the game."

Round 3, Part 2: Here's the conversation I had with myself when I saw "Willie Reid, WR, Florida State" flash across my television screen: "Huh. I can honestly say I didn't see that coming." I didn't know the first thing about Reid, but after I found out he was (a) the consummate team player in Tallahassee, (b) a very fast receiver who fearlessly worked the middle of the field, and (c) a great kick/punt returner, I was very comfortable with the selection. Look, Randle El was a very special punt returner and if it takes two guys to replace him, well, that's okay because he was that good. On the upside, Santonio Holmes is already a better wideout than Randle El, and the addition of Reid means a couple of things. First, Ricardo Colclough probably won't be returning punts. Second, Lee Mays won't make the team.

And for the record, I like Lee Mays. In fact, I like most guys on the roster and want them to do well. (I did get a little upset with Chad Scott from time to time but come on, who didn't?) But I think the Lee Mays Experiment has run its course. I wish him well and maybe he'll get a shot with another team, but I don't think his future is in Pittsburgh. As it stands, the depth chart probably looks something like this:

Hines Ward
Cedrick Wilson
Santonio Holmes
Nate Washington/Quincy Morgan
Willie Reid
Sean Morey (Only Use In Case of Emergency)

Who knows how things will shake out by September, but this is a good problem to have. And I know some people aren't crazy about using relatively high picks on special team players, but don't forget, special teams is a big part of every game (like, I don't know, 33 percent). If you don't think so, just take a second to relive the 2001 AFC Championship game, or even last year's Bengals game at Heinz Field.

Round 4: At this point in the proceedings, it's a safe bet that the only players you're familiar with are the guys who either went to your alma mater or are related to you. Thanks to this here site, we were familiar with Willie Colon, the first fourth-round pick, but raise your hand if you got to see Hofstra play this season. No? Me neither. But if Russ Grimm is happy with him, then by the transitive property, so am I.

DT Orien Harris was the next fourth-rounder and I was probably more shocked by this pick than I was by the Willie Reid selection a round earlier. The last time the Steelers grabbed a "U" guy was when they drafted Leon Searcy in 1992. It looks like Harris will move to end in the 3-4, and he'll have plenty of time to learn behind Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Travis Kirshke (and who knows, maybe Shaun Nua too). Smith is a former fourth-rounder and Keisel was taken in the seventh (as was Nua), which means that there is value at this pick and the Steelers have a history of finding it. Why think otherwise now?

Round 5: Three of the last four picks have been surprises, so I really didn't know what to expect with this one. You could've given me 200 guesses and I never would've come up with quarterback Omar Jacobs, however. But that's exactly who Pittsburgh grabbed at number 164. And it's a great choice for several reasons. First, there is no rush for Jacobs to see the field. (Unless Ben Roethlisberger hurts his knee, has surgery, and is replaced by Charlie Batch who promptly breaks his hand. But that scenario is way too far-fetched to actually ever happen.) Second, the Steelers worked out Tim Couch last week. Yes, that Tim Couch. I saw just as many Bowling Green games as Hofstra games, so I only know what Mike Mayock tells me about Jacobs. He has a funky throwing motion, but a strong arm, whereas Couch has a funky throwing motion and a bad arm. I'm sold on Jacobs.

Round 5, Part 2: No word on where Jai Lewis ended up, but the Steelers still got a former basketball player with tight end Charles Davis from Purdue. The word on the street is that he's not a great blocker, which means he should be able to immediately step into Matt Kranchick's role. Seriously, the Steelers never seem to have enough tight ends, but he'll have to learn how to block if he hopes to make the team.

Round 6: Pittsburgh got their center, it just happened to be Cal's Marvin Philip and it took place six rounds later than some people had hoped. Interestingly, Philip was the fifth best center in the draft, but he'll probably end up on the practice squad since I can't see Pittsburgh carrying three centers on the active roster.

Round 7: It only took 240 picks, but the Steelers finally got their big back. Cedric Humes weighs and 230 pounds and it'll be interesting to see if he makes the team. My favorite scouting report described him as a "Good college runner who lacks speed and elusiveness." How does that work again? Good, but lacks speed AND elusiveness. Sign him up!

*******

Captain Pantload Watch was something I started on my site a while back and it was born out of having to read a lot of suspect material from around the internets by various sportswriters. (In the spirit of full disclosure, the inspiration for the title goes to Dale Gribble, who used the term "Pantload" in a sentence.) Anyway, I figure I might as well keep it going here and to show that I don't discriminate when it comes to these things, the first CPW goes to ... me.

As you may or may not know, I also write for Football Outsiders and way back on April 18th of this year I wrote the following about the Houston Texans entertaining ideas of taking anybody but Reggie Bush with the first overall pick:
"I saw Adam Schefter mention this last night on 'Total Access,' but there is absolutely no way Houston wouldn't draft Reggie Bush, right? I mean, this has to be the definition of a pre-draft smokescreen. In related news, the Texans visited with linebacker Jeff Lageman earlier this week."
Yeah I know, that Jeff Lageman joke never gets old. Well, fast-forward to last Friday night. I check my email around 9 PM EST and find this little gem waiting for me:

From: Schefter, Adam
To: Ryan Wilson
Subject: Ryan...
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006

Don't know if you heard, but the Houston Texans are considering signing Jeff Lageman, too.

Thanks for watching NFL Network.

Enjoy the draft.

Adam Schefter
In case you don't have the NFL Network, Adam Schefter is like John Clayton, but shorter (and younger, and better looking, but that's a whole other story). And let me say that I don't get a lot of these type emails (when I get an email from Stat Boy I'll know I've officially made it). What's really funny is that Schefter sent this late Friday night, meaning that right in the middle of preparing for the upcoming draft at Radio City Music Hall and reporting on the Mario Williams deal, he took time to type out an "I told you so!" note on his Blackberry for yours truly. Somebody needs to explain to him that I'm not that important. In all seriousness, I have to give Schefter props for getting this right ten days before it became a reality. And as an added bonus, I've been CPWed. It's a win-win.

Okay, I'll be back later in the week to see what everybody else is saying about the draft and who knows, maybe I'll have a few original thoughts too. And before I forget, congratulations to Mr. Irrelevant 2006: Kevin McMahan.


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